Network security. Doesn’t exactly make you picture beautiful software, does it? That’s about to change.
Maybe you’re looking for a way to track your Internet usage and the applications that access the network. Maybe you have a habit of absentmindedly dismissing firewall alerts. Maybe you’d like a way to clue into sneaky malware that your anti-virus might not know about yet, or applications that mishandle your data or compromise your privacy.
If any of these is a concern for you, you’re in luck, because today I invite you to meet the prettiest little Internet/network security app you ever did see. It’s called GlassWire, and you can install it to your Windows PC. I’ll also give a quick rundown of four less-pretty but open-source/cross-platform options.
Here’s a quick introduction from the creators of GlassWire (launched August 21 this year):
GlassWire displays your network activity on an easy to understand graph while searching for unusual Internet behavior that could indicate malware or violations of your privacy. Once unusual network activity is discovered you’re instantly alerted with detailed information so you can protect your computer, privacy, and data.
The default view of GlassWire graphs your computers uploading and downloading activity. You can see it on a variety of scales from the last few minutes to trends from the past week.
The icon bubbles mark significant events, and you can click on them for more details. For a more detailed view of how apps are using your bandwidth and the hosts you are connecting to, you can refer to the Usage tab.
The Firewall tab allows you to manage your built-in Windows firewall. The Alerts tab shows you a history of your GlassWire alerts by date, app, and type of alert.
Ways GlassWire Can Help
What kinds of events can GlassWire track and help you understand, you ask?
Monitor Changes to Applications & System Files
GlassWire can display a notification the first time an application accesses the network. It will also notify you if an application ever initiates a connection to a suspicious host. GlassWire also has an Application Info Monitor that can tell you if a version, publisher, certificate, or executable of an application has changed.
If you use your Hosts file to block websites on your PC without using software, you will want to know if that file ever got changed without you initiating it. That’s why GlassWire will leave a notification for you if system files like the ‘hosts’ file or ‘lmhosts’ file are modified, too.
You can also use GlassWire to learn how much bandwidth you’re using, and how much data you upload or download. If you’d like a warning of when you go over a certain amount of bandwidth over a period of time, you can set that up under GlassWire’s Settings > Security > Bandwidth Overage Monitor.
Monitor Network & Internet Access
GlassWire can tell you when network devices or drivers are added, removed, or changed. It can notify you of changes to your proxy settings, or your DNS server settings. It can also tell you if your MAC (media access control) address associated with your IP address is changed, protecting you from an ARP spoofing attack. Put simply, an ARP spoofing attack is a type of Internet security threat where a malicious user may pretend their MAC address is someone else’s, allowing that malicious user to access networks or information that they should not, by pretending to be an authorized device.
Personally I really like GlassWire’s Internet Access Monitor because it shows a little notification in the corner of my screen any time my Internet disconnects or reconnects.
It removes the frustrating experience of clicking on a link and waiting for a page to load, noticing it’s taking longer than usual, and then mousing over to my system tray to discover I’m not connected.
If you want to know about what your computer is doing while idle, GlassWire also has an option to show you a summary of significant network activity that happened “While you were away”.
Strange Things To Look For
It’s not possible to tell you exactly what your data should look like on GlassWire, because every person uses their computer a little differently. Also, some devices like servers for example may have really different network usage than regular desktops. The key is to wait until you establish a baseline of what your data looks like during normal activities and then pay attention to deviations from it. You may want to pay attention to what your usage looks like while you torrent files, or upload videos to YouTube or Dropbox, or edit your website, compared to typical Internet surfing.
Looking out for unusual activity and alerts with GlassWire can help you detect the presence of malicious software that may be so new it is unknown to virus scanners. For example, when one GlassWire user noticed high uploading and downloading, and a series of GlassWire alerts, he was prompted to investigate.
— GlassWire (@GlassWireLabs) September 16, 2014
It turned out he had malware that was trying to change proxy settings every few minutes. If you find a file like this or another virus, you can upload it to VirusTotal for tracking across a variety of virus scanners.
Other Nifty Features
Want to look at GlassWire’s graphs more closely? There’s a handy ‘Pause’ button and even a little camera ‘Snapshot’ button that appears when you hover your mouse over the graph.
Not a fan of the colours? You’ll find a few different skins under Settings.
GlassWire is closed-source, and Windows-only for the time being. They promise a version will always be free, but they plan to release a premium version with additional features.
One feature GlassWire lacks is the ability to tell you about the other devices that may be using up your bandwidth. GlassWire will only let you see the usage of a single computer (though it can be set up to monitor a computer or server remotely). So, to learn about the devices that share your bandwidth, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
If you need an open-source, portable app, we reviewed three network analysis and diagnostic options you can try.
These include such as Network Stuff (Windows only), Wireshark (Windows, with 3rd party packages available for Mac and various Linux Distros), and Angry IP Scanner. Angry IP Scanner, shown below, is the prettiest of those three (not saying a lot, I know) and the only one officially available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Staying Up To Date
The people at GlassWire have been keeping track of new releases and bug-fixes on the GlassWire blog. If you encounter a bug of your own, you can report it on their HackerOne profile and even get the credit for spotting it.
It’s normal to look at your results and have questions. GlassWire runs it’s own forum for people to discuss the software, learn more about what it shows you, and find out how to proceed if GlassWire finds something of concern.
It can be hard to find software that tells you about your computer’s security status in such a beautiful way as GlassWire, so I want to call attention to the design. GlassWire is an elegant piece of software that offers in-depth information, and doesn’t complicate the visuals. That turns data into meaningful information you have a chance to actually appreciate.
Bright, pleasing colours. Soft, rounded corners. Modern typography. Clear hierarchy and organization of features. All of these things make a big difference in our perception of an app, but ‘pretty’ is not something you can say of most Windows software, historically speaking. However, an app that’s easy on the eyes, that reduces the visual noise you see, reduces cognitive load on the brain. That makes it easier to extract the information it presents, making you more likely to use it.
The elements of visual design (which can be learned) matter, even in areas like network security. If an app is ugly, even if it has a pile of useful privacy and security information, you better believe I’ll be looking for a version with a more attractive and clean user interface. I bid the ugly apps goodbye upon finding nicer ones, even if the new ones lack the same level of detail or features.
Wouldn’t you? Comment below if you disagree, or if you know of a different network-monitoring app that’s worth having.